Fred McHone is a printer at The Washington Post. He's the man who handles the stock market tables that have been giving so many of us indigestion for the past two weeks, but other than that he's a nice man.

Fred came to me the other night with a question. "I go home shortly after 1 a.m., as you know," he said, "and night after night I see those big two-section buses -- the ones with an accordion in the middle -- running along with one or two passengers, and sometimes no passengers at all. Who is the genius at Metro who puts those big buses on the street in the middle of the night, when there's so little business for them?"

As usual, Metro's Coty Phanstiehl came up with a good answer. "Although European cities have had them for years," he said, "Metro just got around to buying 43 of the articulated buses last year. We wanted to find out how they would work out.

"The idea for any transit system is to save money, of course, and keep fares down. Our figures show that 83 percent of the cost of operating a bus is human. The money is paid out for people -- labor.

"The operator alone accounts for 57 percent. The rest pays for maintenance -- for mechanics who service the buses, people who wash them and clean them, people who fuel them, and so forth.

"Fuel, even though it has risen in cost and will probably rise some more, is only 5 percent of the cost of running a bus. And the fuel required to operate these larger and newer articulated buses is very little more than is required to operate a smaller and older bus.

"What Fred McHone probably saw in the wee hours of the morning were the last of the day's run of Benning line buses. We put them out in the morning and keep them out all day and all evening because the Benning line serves one of the heaviest passenger loads in our system.

"These buses may not be filled at the beginning of the line, but by the time they get down to, say, the shift change at GPO, they pick up quite a load. They enable us to accommodate more passengers with no increase in labor costs. Only the fuel cost is higher, and fuel, as I said, accounts for only a tiny percentage of the total operating cost for buses. So it makes sense to keep the larger buses in service.

"We begin pulling the articulated buses off the street after 1:30 a.m. so that we can inspect them, give them whatever maintenance they need, and then fuel them up so that they're ready to go out again early in the morning. If your friend's name is McHone, he may be of Scottish descent, so you tell him Metro tries to be just as frugal as a Scot is supposed to be. When we spent taxpayer dollars, we have to be ready to justify every one of them."

All right, Cody, I'll buy that explanation. Now tell me why Metro can't afford to put route numbers in the rear windows of its buses so that a comuter can tell whether he needs to hurry to catch that specific bus or whether he can take his time because it's not his bus anyhow. Would such numbers really cost more than the taxpayers can afford? The numbers would be a boon to many riders, especially those who board at berthing areas and approach parked buses from the rear. FOR HACKERS ONLY

First it was the Wardman Park Hotel, then the Sheraton Park Hotel, and now it's called the Sheraton Washington Hotel. Very confusing, especially for those of us who knew only one Statler Hotel here and must now try to remember which one became the Statler Hilton and then the Capital Hilton, and which one is the Washington Hilton.(The Capital is at 16th and K, the Washington is up on Connecticut Avenue.)

Some cabdrivers are as slow as I am in keeping abreast of hotel name changes. In an effort to fix its new name and entrance in the minds of hackers, the Sheraton Washington is throwing a party for them.

Any cabdriver who pulls up to the new entrance to the hotel between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday will find carhops on duty to serve him coffee and sandwiches, and to present him with a gift. But be advised the entrance is no longer on Woodley Road. It is now on 24th Street -- between Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street.

There ought to be a special prize for anybody who can remember all the names by which the International Inn has been know in the few years it has been in existence.I might evey buy you a cup of coffee myself if you can rattle them off in the right order. THESE MODERN TIMES

When the schoolteachers in his town ended their strike Indianapolis columnist Wendell Trogdon commented:

"You can tell the teachers have returned. There are a lot more beat up old cars in the school parking lots."